The end of an old year and the start of a new one is a time when we like to set goals, change bad habits and make resolutions for self-improvement. Here are five things we suggest your family could try for the New Year.
1. Have more family dinners
Eating dinner as a family gives you time together to talk about your days and unwind and relax before any evening activities. Studies have shown that there are many benefits to preparing and eating meals as a family.
When families eat meals together regularly, children are less likely to participate in risky behavior, such as substance use and physical violence when they become teenagers. Family meals also promote a feeling of closeness and more open communication among family members.
- Having regular family meals when your child is a teenager will promote healthier eating habits when they reach adulthood.
- When you involve your children in preparing meals, you are helping them to build essential life skills and teaching them about nutrition. Children who help prepare family meals have been shown to eat more nutritious food.
But be careful! Research also reports that having the TV on during family meals can cancel many of these benefits. Instead of turning to the TV, use family mealtime as a way to bond with one another.
2. Stay active
It is a cliché at this point: people make a resolution to exercise and get fit for the New Year only to find themselves back in front of the TV by late January. Instead of making hard-to-reach goals, try making small changes to your everyday life that add physical activity to your regular routine. Research shows that when you start off with small and achievable goals, you are much more likely to follow through.
When trying to get your children active, parent and family behaviour can have a very strong influence. The more active you are yourself, the more likely it is that your children will be active too.
Walk the walk
A 2013 Report by Active Health Kids Canada talks about the lost art of walking to school. If your child’s school is a reasonable distance from your home, walking to school might be one of the easiest ways to incorporate physical activity into their lives. If time is an issue, try sharing supervision responsibilities with other parents. You can also check if your community has an “Active & Safe Routes to School” program.
Making a habit of going for a family walk after dinner several times a week is also an excellent way to get everyone active and promote family bonding.
Who says that increasing your physical activity levels has to be a chore? Incorporating sports or other playful activities into your child’s life will help to ensure that physical activity is seen as fun instead of work.
Where possible, encourage children to go outside and explore. Not only will this keep them active, but it will also give them an appreciation for nature. You can learn more about the positive impact that nature has on children by reading the article called Curing Nature Deficit Disorder.
3. Reduce screen time
As our lives become more dependent on technology, being mindful of screen time is increasingly important. “Screen time” is any time spent in front of a device such as a smart phone, computer, television or game console. Currently, only 15 percent of Grade 6 to 12 children across Canada meet the Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Children and Youth recommendation of less than two hours of screen time per day.
On top of promoting sedentary behavior, increased screen time can also decrease attachment to both parents and peers. Recent studies have also shown that high levels of screen-time are linked to increased psychological distress in children.
While the draw of TV and video games can be strong, encourage children to participate in activities like drawing, reading, or playing a board game. These activities help to build creativity and can be done alone or as a family.
4. Better family communication
Research shows that positive and open family communication starting at a young age can have major benefits in the long-run. Teenagers who communicate well with their parents are less likely to rebel and will also have stronger conflict resolution skills well into adulthood. This is great news, but what can parents actually do to keep the lines of communication open?
Along with regular meals together as a family, regular family leisure time can also lead to better communication. Recreational family time spent taking a walk to the park, playing a game of cards or just sitting on the back porch looking at the stars can offer a casual setting for families to talk to one another. It also increases feelings of attachment. Shared leisure time can also help families to build problem-solving skills and to better adapt to family change over time.
Adding an aspect of ritual or tradition to family activities can also increase the feeling of bonding amongst family members.
5. Less structure
In today’s busy world, it is easy to fall into the trap of over-scheduling. However, more and more studies are showing that between school and mealtimes, piano lessons and homework, it is important for children to have time to themselves for unstructured play.
During this time, children might play hide-and-seek, build a fort out of sticks or simply lay in the grass and look at the clouds. Allowing children unstructured time to entertain themselves helps them to develop independence, social skills, creativity and imagination. Unstructured play time also gives children a break from responsibilities so they have time to relax. Remember, Grade 5 math homework might not seem like a big stressor to parents, but, for a 10 year old, it is a pretty big deal.